Johnson: 20 years ago, Ila Borders broke gender barriers with the St. Paul Saints

From SABR member Sarah Johnson at City Pages on May 23, 2017, with mention of SABR member Jean Ardell:

When Ila Borders took the mound for the St. Paul Saints in 1997, people dismissed her as a publicity stunt, the latest in a series of quirky promotions hatched by the cheeky independent league team. But she was no gimmick; she was making history. That year, ticket holders to the sold-out season would bear witness to the first woman to play men’s professional baseball since the Negro Leagues era.

In her new book, Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey, Borders relays the struggles and triumphs of being a trailblazer of our national pastime. That includes being referred to as “that thing” by an opposing Northern League manager and receiving death threats.

“Anytime you’re a woman trying to break into a male-dominated field you spend time trying to prove yourself,” says Borders. “Once [my teammates] realized I wasn’t there to pick up guys or for the publicity — I was just there to play baseball — I’d see them diving for balls for me, encouraging me. They know how hard it is to play this game.”

Borders had a successful four-year career. Her best season came in 1999 while playing for Madison Black Wolf. There, she posted a 1.67 ERA in 15 appearances. “I loved the game, and never really felt like what I went through wasn’t worth it until my last year, and that’s why I decided to retire,” she says. “Mike Veeck [co-owner of the St. Paul Saints] offered me a job as a pitching coach, but I said no because my head wasn’t in it at the time. That’s the one thing I regret.”

Read the full article here:

Originally published: May 24, 2017. Last Updated: May 24, 2017.